Portable Antiquities Scheme records one millionth find

26th September 2014

On the occasion of the publication of the Portable Antiquities Scheme Annual Report 2013, its one millionth find recorded is announced. The find is a Roman coin in a hoard of 22,000 others dating to around AD341 found in Seaton, Devon. The copper alloy coin, called a nummus, was struck in AD 332 at the mint of Lyon (Gaul). It shows the personification of Constantinopolis on the obverse and a Victory on prow on the reverse. This very common type was struck by Constantine the Great across the Empire to celebrate the inauguration of the new city of Constantinople, which was to become the capital of the Eastern Empire. The hoard is the largest of its kind found in Britain. The recording of over one million objects on finds.org.uk since the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) was founded in 1997 is testimony to the enormous success of the scheme, which allows finds discovered by members of the public to be recorded for the benefit of researchers and the public alike.

All the finds recorded through the Scheme have made a huge contribution to archaeological knowledge, revealing new insights into Britain’s past, from its earliest pre-history to the 20th century. The PAS has recorded objects of great value alongside historical ephemera, both of which are vital to building a picture of our complex past. Some of the key discoveries are:

  • The Staffordshire Hoard, dating to the 7th century – the largest ever Anglo-Saxon hoard of gold and silver, mostly consisting of war-gear, including some object-types that continue to puzzle archaeologists. The range of objects found is challenging orthodoxies of when certain objects were first used.
  • The Frome (Somerset) Hoard – the largest ever Roman coin hoard found in a single vessel, consisting of 52,503 coins, deposited in in c.290. This is one of 500 Romans coins hoards discovered since 1997, and their deposition is leading archaeologists to rethink why hoards were buried in Roman times.
  • Two of the largest ever Viking Age hoards found were recorded through the PAS. The Vale of York Hoard (682 objects) and the Silverdale (Lancashire) Hoard (201 objects) were found in the past decade (the largest Viking hoard ever found was the Cuerdale Hoard of 8,600+ objects, found in 1840). Both hoards, of early 10th-century date, highlight the extent of Viking expansion across England.
  • Two of the largest ever Bronze Age hoards were recorded through the PAS. The Langton Matravers (Dorset) Hoard (777 objects found in 2007) and the Boughton Malherbe (Kent) Hoard (352 objects found in 2011). Such hoards were once thought to be metalworking scrap, but archaeologists now believe they were deposited ritually, perhaps as offerings to lost gods.
  • The PAS has revealed three hitherto unknown rulers who have come to light through coin finds recorded by the scheme: Anarevito (an Iron Age chieftain, c.20 BC-c.AD 10), Domitianus II (a Roman emperor, c.271), and Harthacnut (Viking ruler of York, c.900).
  • A silver-gilt boar badge helped pin the point where King Richard III met his death at the Battle of Bosworth, Leicestershire (1485). Medieval battlefields are often hard to locate precisely, so such archaeological evidence proves crucially important. Our understanding of several battlefield sites have been revolutionised through the systematic recording of metal-detected finds, including Bosworth (1485) and Naseby (1645). The pinpointing of metal artefacts associated with the combatants has given archaeologists a better understanding of such battles.
  • One of the largest objects recorded by the PAS was a French cannon, found in Cardiff, which was perhaps captured at the Battle of the Nile 1798). It measures 2.8m in length.
  • One of the smallest objects recorded by the PAS is an Indian gold fanam (coin) found in East Yorkshire, with a diameter of just 6mm. It was struck in the name of King Kanthirava Narasa (r.1638-62) and shows the God Vishnu in his lion incarnation.
  • Cumbria’s first Viking Age inhumation cemetery, found following the reporting to PAS of two Scandinavian-style ‘tortoise’ brooches.
  • Britain’s oldest found papal bulla, a lead-seal from a document issued in the name of Pope Paschal I (r.817-24), probably granting land or office. Papal bullae are relatively common finds, many of which probably found their way into the ground when the documents to which they were attached were destroyed during the Reformation.
  • Mudlarking on the Thames foreshore has brought to light many artefact types less commonly found elsewhere, including lead-alloy medieval pilgrim badges and post-medieval toys.

Currently 815 people have full access to PAS data for research purposes, and there are a further 6,723 registered users. To date, PAS data has been used in 422 research projects, including 15 pieces of large-scale research and 87 PhDs.

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has recently agreed a generous grant to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which will help to increase volunteer involvement in archaeological heritage across the UK. Called PASt Explorers, the scheme is a five-year project that will create a national network of up to 500 trained volunteers who will participate in archaeological finds work in their local areas, sharing information through the PAS database and within their local communities.

The HLF grant is for £792,000 over five years and will build on the existing aims of the PAS to increase opportunities for active public involvement in archaeology, especially for people who have never before participated in archaeological heritage. Volunteers will assist in the delivery of public activities in their local areas, including finds recording events, talks, displays and exhibitions and finds-handling sessions. The project will raise awareness of the educational value of archaeological finds in their context, and promote the care and protection of the historic environment on a local level.

Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, said ‘The success of the PAS and finds.org.uk cannot be overestimated in terms of our understanding of our past. The sheer variety and diversity of finds registered over the scheme’s 17-year history is extraordinary, and the one millionth find is a truly exciting milestone.’

Ed Vaizey, Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy, said ‘The one millionth find recorded represents an incredible landmark for the PAS. The British Museum’s role managing the Scheme has been instrumental in its success, ensuring through its network of locally based Finds Liaison Officers, that it reaches out to local people where they live, ensuring that the most important archaeological finds are recorded for the benefit of us all’.

The Seaton Down Hoard – and the one millionth find

The hoard of approximately 22,000 copper-alloy coins was found near the previously excavated site of a Roman villa at Honeyditches in East Devon in November 2013. Realising the significance of the discovery, and that much of it was in situ, the finder (Laurence Egerton, 51) immediately contacted the landowner (Clinton Devon Estates), as well as Danielle Wootton (Devon Finds Liaison Officer, based at the University of Exeter) and Bill Horner (County Archaeologist). This prompt and responsible action ensured the coins were properly excavated and allowed for the later recording of the hoard and its context at the British Museum. Seaton Down is the largest hoard of coins of the 4th century AD from Britain to have been properly recorded through the PAS and was declared Treasure earlier this month.

It appears that the coins were buried together as a single group in a small isolated pit, the lozenge-shaped form of the coin deposit suggests the coins were buried in a flexible container, perhaps a fabric or soft leather bag, though this has not survived. The combined weight of the coins is 68kg and they have been lightly cleaned at the British Museum prior to valuation under the Treasure Act 1996. The coins range from the late AD 260s to the AD 340s, a period of much turmoil in Roman Britain. 99% of the hoard is nummi, common coins struck between AD 330 and AD 341. The group terminates in AD 347-8 during the joint reign of Constantius II and his younger brother Constans, sons of Constantine I. Constans was the last legitimate emperor to visit Britain.

The scale of the hoard is remarkable. This is one of the largest hoards ever found within the whole Roman Empire. Despite the number of coins found, the financial value would not have been great, amounting to approximately four gold coins (solidi): this sum of money would possibly have provided a soldier’s food or a worker’s salary for two years.

The Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery in Exeter hope to acquire the hoard and a fundraising campaign has been launched today.

Rosie Denham, Exeter’s Lead Councillor for Economy and Culture, expressed local delight: ‘This extraordinary hoard will add greatly to our picture of life in Roman Devon. It would be a wonderful addition to RAMM’s collection of local Romano-British objects, which includes finds from Honeyditches. We hope that public support will enable us to acquire the hoard. It has so many exciting stories to tell, not least of which is the exemplary cooperation between the finder, landowner, PAS and county authorities. We look forward to developing and sharing these stories and invite all to help buy and conserve this important discovery.’

Laurence Egerton said: ‘Initially I found two small coins the size of a thumbnail sitting on top of the ground. I decided to dig the earth at that spot and immediately reached some iron ingots which were laid directly on top of the coins. The next shovel was full of coins - they just spilled out over the field. I had no idea how far down the coins went so I stopped immediately and phoned my wife to come to the site with a camera. Between finding the hoard and the archaeologists excavating the site I slept alongside it in my car for three nights!

‘It’s by far the biggest find I’ve ever had. It really doesn’t get any better than that! It is so important to record all of these finds properly because it is so easy to lose important insights into our history.’, added Mr Egerton.

Bill Horner (County Archaeologist, Devon County Council) said ‘It is to the finder’s great credit that so many coins were left in the ground to be archaeologically excavated. We realised the significance of the find and mobilised a team as fast as we could. So much more information was retrieved as a result. The coins were in remarkably good condition. Coming out of the ground you could see the portrait faces, a family tree of the House of Constantine!’

Also on display

A medieval papal bulla found in Cheddon Fitzpaine, Somerset (PAS: SOM-FBA501). This lead seal, issued in the name of Pope Paul II (r.1464-71), would originally have been attached to a decree or document granting privileges. The design of the pope enthroned, flanked by his cardinals and with his flock before him, is unique. This image is also intriguing since Paul was criticised for this abuse of appointing cardinals in secret so as to advance his personal interests. This object has been acquired by The Museum of Somerset.

A post-medieval ‘toy’ from Swallowfield, Berkshire (PAS: SUR-59B244). This copper-alloy object, probably dating to the 18th century, shows a copulating couple. The object has movable parts, so as to cause amusement. Such bawdy objects are not uncommon, and shed light on entertainment and humour at this time. The find is to be returned to the finder.

Notes to editors

The Portable Antiquities Scheme

Thousands of archaeological objects are discovered every year, many by members of the public, particularly by people metal-detecting. If recorded, these finds have great potential to transform archaeological knowledge, helping archaeologists understand when, where and how people lived in the past.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme (finds.org.uk) offers the only proactive mechanism for recording such finds, which are made publicly available on its online database. This data is an important educational and research resource that can be used by anyone interested in learning more.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme is managed by the British Museum, and funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport through a grant, the British Museum and local partners. Its work is guided by the Portable Antiquities Advisory Group, whose membership includes leading archaeological, landowner and metal-detecting organisations.

Further information

Please contact the Press Office on 020 7323 8583 / 8394 or communications@britishmuseum.org

High resolution images and caption sheet available for: 
The Seaton Down Hoard: tinyurl.com/mdr7zx3 
Additional PAS finds: tinyurl.com/kd2nnlk

For public information please print britishmuseum.org or 020 7323 8181